Chapter 8: The Middle Ages in Europe

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CHAPTER 8: THE MIDDLE AGES IN EUROPE
“The Dark Ages were stark in every dimension. Famines and plague, culminating
the Black Death and its recurring pandemics, repeatedly thinned the population…
It says much about the Middle Ages that in the year 1500, after a thousand years
of neglect, the roads built by the Romans were still the best on the continent…
Among the lost arts was bricklaying; in all of Germany, England, Holland, and
Scandinavia, virtually no stone buildings, except cathedrals, were raised for ten
centuries…
Surrounding them was the vast, menacing, and at places, impassable Hercynian
Forest, infested by boars; by bears; by the hulking medieval wolves who lurk so
fearsomely in fairy tales handed down from that time; by imaginary demons; and
by very real outlaws, who flourished because they were seldom pursued..
Although homicides were twice as frequent as deaths by accident… only one of
every hundred murderers was ever brought to justice…
- Historian William Manchester
INTRODUCTION

In this chapter, you will learn about Europe after
the fall of Rome. In the East, the Roman Empire
continued as the Byzantine Empire. In the West,
Europe experienced centuries of turmoil as
different groups invaded and political authority
was frequently challenged by outbreaks of
violence. Eventually, a new political, social and
economic order emerged, known as feudalism.
ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS
What were the main characteristics of the
Byzantine Empire?
 How was Western Europe affected by the
collapse of Rome?
 How did the system of feudalism restore order
to Western Europe?
 How did religious beliefs shape life-styles in this
period?

KEY VOCABULARY
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Byzantine Empire
Constantinople
Eastern Orthodoxy
Code of Justinian
Middle Ages
Charlemagne
Feudalism
Lords
Knights
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Serfs
Manor
Manorialism
Three-field System
Roman Catholicism
The Pope
The Crusades
Thomas Aquinas
Magma Carta
IMPORTANT IDEAS
A.
B.
C.
In the East, the Byzantine Empire emerged with its center
at Constantinople. It was to last for almost 1,000 years.
Emperor Justinian brought together Roman laws into a
comprehensive legal code.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Western Europe
descended into a period of chaos. Different tribes set up
separate kingdoms. Waves of invaders kept Europe in
turmoil. Cities fell into decay and much of the learning of
the ancient world was lost.
To protect themselves, Europeans developed the system
of feudalism – a political, economic and social system.
Under feudalism, the king gave land to his nobles in
return for their service. Nobles provided the king with
knights. Serfs worked on self-sufficient manors for their
noble lords.
IMPORTANT IDEAS
D.
E.
During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church preserved
learning and emerged as the most powerful institution
in Western Europe. The Pope was the head of the
Catholic Church. St. Augustine emphasized the role of
faith, while St. Thomas Aquinas believed that Christian
teachings were compatible with the exercise of reason.
Aquinas also believed in natural law.
Christians and Muslims fought for control of the Holy
Land during the Crusades. The Crusades introduced
Europeans to new goods and ideas from the Middle
East.
THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE (330-1453)

In 330 A.D., Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the
Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium, a Greek city in the
eastern part of the empire. He renamed this city
Constantinople. The city was located along land routes that
connected Europe and Asia. The city was also strategically
located on the Bosporus, a water-way connecting the Black Sea
to the Mediterranean. Constantinople was surrounded on three
sides by water, and the city had thick walls, making it almost
impossible to attack.
A BYZANTINE CULTURE EMERGES

While the western half of the Roman Empire collapsed in
the 5th century, the eastern half of the empire survived for
another thousand years. The Byzantines saw themselves
as simply continuing the Roman Empire.
A BYZANTINE CULTURE EMERGES

Like the emperors of Rome, the Byzantine
emperors continued to be all-powerful. They
maintained an imperial system of government
over a diverse population. Because
Constantinople was in the East, most of its
merchants and other residents spoke Greek.
At first, the official language of government
remained Latin, but it also eventually was
replaced by Greek.
A BYZANTINE CULTURE EMERGES

The Byzantines were also
united by their own form of
Christianity – Eastern
Orthodoxy – which was
separate from the Catholic
Church. Orthodox Christians
did not recognize the Pope
as the head of their church.
Instead, they had their own
Patriarch who led the church.
The priests may marry and
services were conducted in
Greek or local languages.
Orthodox Christians
decorated their churches
with icons – images of Jesus
and the saints. There were
also other differences, such
as views on the Trinity and
the shape of the cross they
displayed in their churches.
WITH YOUR SHOULDER PARTNER

Why did the Byzantine Empire survive as the
most powerful economic, cultural, and military
forces in Europe?
A BYZANTINE CULTURE EMERGES

There were several reasons why the Byzantine
Empire survived as one of the most powerful
economic, cultural and military forces in Europe:
A BYZANTINE CULTURE EMERGES

The Byzantines developed a
vibrant culture. Emperor
Justinian built the Church of
Hagia Sophia with its giant dome
and tall spires along with other
churches throughout the Empire.
The Church of Hagia Sophia
showed connection between
church and State. Missionary
saints Cyril and Methodius
Christianize Slavs to the North of
the empire and develop the
Cyrillic language to promote
religion to the Slavs.
CONTRAST

Contrast the Byzantine church and State
philosophy with the Modern day United States
church and state philosophy.
A BYZANTINE CULTURE EMERGES

Schools taught ancient Greek texts. Byzantine
artists used precious materials – gold, silver,
and ivory – to display classical images. They
were especially known for their colorful icons
and mosaics (pictures made with pieces of cut
stone and glass).
A BYZANTINE CULTURE EMERGES

The size of the Byzantine Empire varied over time. In its
early centuries, it ruled over the Balkan Peninsula, the
Middle East and parts of Italy. Under Justinian (527565), it re-conquered much of the old Roman Empire.
A BYZANTINE CULTURE EMERGES

One of the greatest achievements of the Byzantine Empire was the
Code of Justinian. Emperor Justinian collected all of the existing
Roman laws and organized them into a single code. The code listed
all the laws and opinions on each subject. Justinian’s Code also had
special laws relating to religion. It required that all persons in the
empire belong to the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith.
THE DECLINE OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE

The late Byzantine Empire continuously battled the
Slavs and Avars to the north, the Persian Empire to
the east and the spread of Islam in the south. In
the 600s, Muslim Arabs took most of the empire’s
territory in the Middle East.
THE DECLINE OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE

The empire declined further in the 11th century. The Seljuk
Turks, originally from Central Asia, defeated the Byzantine
army in 1071 and took possession of most of Asia Minor.
Crusaders attacked the city in 1204. City-states in Italy
began to compete with Constantinople for Mediterranean
trade. Yet the Byzantines still controlled the Balkan
Peninsula and survived for another 400 years. Their empire
eventually unraveled from continuous attacks on all sides.
By the 1440s, the Byzantine Empire was reduced to a small
area just around the city of Constantinople itself. In 1453,
Constantinople was finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks.
INFLUENCE ON RUSSIA

One place that was greatly
influenced by Byzantium
was Russia. Russia
emerged as a state in the
9th century, in the forest
lands between the Baltic
and Black Seas. Viking
raiders organized Slavs in
the region into a kingdom
centered in Kiev. Other
Russian cities, such as
Moscow and Novgorod,
developed to the north.
Early Russian cities carried
on a brisk trade with the
Byzantine Empire.
INFLUENCE ON RUSSIA

Contact with the Byzantines affected Russia in many ways.
Byzantine culture – especially Orthodox Christianity, the
Cyrillic alphabet, and Byzantine crafts and products – was
introduced into Russian society. The Byzantines also
converted other Slavic peoples and the Bulgars to
Christianity, leaving a permanent legacy in Eastern Europe.
2. WESTERN EUROPE IN TURMOIL

While the Byzantine
Empire survived as a
center of classical
culture, important
changes were taking
place in Western
Europe. Historians
sometimes refer to this
period of history, from
the fall of Rome in 476
A.D. to the 1400s, as
the “Middle Ages” or
medieval period – the
period between ancient
and modern times.
Map of the approximate political boundaries of
Europe in 450
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS

Beyond Rome’s
frontiers lived
Germanic tribes like
the Goths, Vandals,
Lombards,
Burgundians, and
Franks. The Romans
considered these
peoples to be
uncivilized
“barbarians.” The
Romans considered
anyone to be a
barbarian who came
from a foreign, nonRoman culture.
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS

In the 4th century, a
war-like tribe
known as the Huns
moved from
Central Asia to
Europe. As the
Huns moved into
Europe, they forced
the Germanic
tribes to move
westward. These
Germanic tribes in
turn pushed
forward into the
Roman Empire.
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS

The Visigoths were
permitted by the
Romans to enter the
empire to escape the
Huns. Later, the
Visigoths turned
against the Romans.
The Visigoths defeated
the Roman army and
sacked the city of
Rome in 410 A.D. They
were assisted in
defeating the Romans
by the many Germanic
slaves inside the city.
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS

After a period of invasions, Germanic tribes
then established their own kingdoms in many
parts of the former Roman Empire. Then
Angles and Saxons invaded England; the
Visigoths moved westward to Spain; the
Lombards occupied northern Italy, and the
Franks took Gaul (present-day France).
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS

The constant warfare of this period disrupted
trade across Europe. Travel became unsafe
because of violence. Bridges and roads fell into
disrepair. Cities and towns were abandoned.
Bandits roamed freely. Life became increasingly
rural and unsafe. Wealthy families moved out of
towns to the safety of fortified homes in the
countryside. People gave up their interest in
learning. Shortages of food and goods grew.
Churches and monasteries became the only
places where people could read and write.
THE RISE OF THE FRANKS

The Franks
established the
largest of the new
Germanic
Kingdoms in what
is now France.
Charles Martel, a
powerful
nobleman, helped
unite the Franks.
In 732, at the
Battle of Tours,
Martel stopped
the advance of
Islam from Spain
into France.
THE RISE OF THE FRANKS

In 751, Martel’s son
Pepin seized power and
became King of the
Franks. With the support
of the Pope, Pepin
marched across the Alps
and took control of
Northern Italy. Frankish
kings created a powerful
army by granting lands to
their nobles in exchange
for service in the king’s
army with their knights.
THE REIGN OF CHARLEMAGNE

Pepin’s son,
Charlemagne, became
king in 768. Charlemagne
expanded the practice of
giving land to his nobles in
exchange for their
promises of loyalty and
service. At the same time,
his nobles gave land to
their knights in exchange
for similar promises.
Peasants gave up their
rights to their local lords
for better security. They
offered services “in kind,”
providing firewood,
livestock, and crops.
THE REIGN OF CHARLEMAGNE

Charlemagne enlarged his
kingdom to include France,
Germany, Holland,
Belgium, and Northern
Italy. Charlemagne
established a new capital
at Aachen, which he
turned into a center of
learning. He constructed a
beautiful palace in
imitation of the imperial
court of Rome. He used
riches from his conquests
to attract scholars to his
palace school for children
of the nobility.
THE REIGN OF CHARLEMAGNE

At the request of the Pope,
Charlemagne was crowned
“Emperor of the Holy
Roman Empire” in 800.
This step announced to the
world that Western Europe
was now independent from
the Byzantine emperor.
The coronation of
Charlemagne also signified
the new political and
religious unity of Western
Europe under the concept
of Christendom. After
Charlemagne’s death, his
empire was divided among
his sons.
EUROPE FACES NEW THREATS

The division of Charlemagne’s empire occurred
just as Europeans were facing new threats.
From the east, Slavs and Magyars invaded the
lands of Germany, France, and Italy. From
North Africa, Muslims attacked Southern Italy.
The greatest threat came from the Vikings –
fierce warriors and sailors from Scandinavia in
Northern Europe. They sailed south in search
of trade, loot, and land.
EUROPE FACES NEW THREATS

Between 800 and 1000,
the Vikings launched
repeated assaults on the
coasts of Western Europe,
often committing brutal
atrocities. Although
spreading fear and
destruction, the Vikings
also created new trade
routes. Their longboats
were easy to maneuver
and could sail in heavy
seas or close to the land.
In many places, they
created new settlements –
such as the Danelaw in
Northern England,
Normandy in France, and
their own communities on
the island of Sicily.
3. FEUDAL SOCIETY

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To protect themselves from violence and to provide for
basic economic needs, people throughout Western
Europe adopted the system introduced by the Franks.
Kings offered nobles a grant of land, known as a fued or
fief, in exchange for loyalty and service. The nobleman,
known as the vassal, gave homage (allegiance) to the
king. This new order, known as feudalism, helped
people survive the breakdown of central government
and order.
Feudalism in Europe was characterized by a number of
key social, political, and economic relationships.
SOCIAL

A major characteristic
of feudal society was
the development of a
strict class structure
based on the control of
land and military power.
People born as serfs,
knights, or lords could
not change their social
position. Local lords
(nobles) were given
land by their rulers in
exchange for military
service. These lords
had their own small
armies of knights –
armed warriors on
horseback.
POLITICAL

Under the feudal system,
the leading nobles
controlled political life.
They built large castles for
their own protection, often
rivaling those of the king in
size. They surrounded
themselves with armed
knights. The king relied on
his nobles for his own
army, and the nobles often
fought among themselves
or challenged the king’s
authority. Civil wars were
frequent, and powerful
nobles often grabbed land
for themselves.
ECONOMIC

During feudalism, most people
lived on manors. A manor
consisted of the lord’s house
and the peasants living in the
surrounding territory. This
aspect of the feudal system is
also sometimes known as
manorialism. Each manor
produced its own food, clothing,
and shelter. Manors varied in
size, depending on their lord’s
wealth. Every noble had at least
one manor, but some powerful
or wealthy nobles had many
manors. For example, in
England there were more than
9,000 manors.
ECONOMIC

Peasant farmers known as serfs gave their lord
part of their harvest in return for the use of
land and other services. The lord protected the
serfs from attacks by outsiders. Each lord had
almost complete power over the serfs who lived
on his manor. The lord could pass laws, require
labor, and act as a judge. Serfs were bound to
the land and had no voice in most matters.
ECONOMIC

Farming in the
Middle Ages.
Farmers lacked
specific knowledge of
how to enrich the soil
or rotate crops. Each
year, only two-thirds
of the land was
usually cultivated,
letting the other third
remain fallow
(uncultivated), so
that it could recover
its fertility. This was
known as the threefield system.
ECONOMIC

Farming in the Middle Ages.
One field was devoted to
winter crops, a second to
summer crops, and a third
lay fallow each year. Farm
animals were often small.
Bad weather and a poor
harvest could lead to
famine and death. For
example, during the Great
Famine of 1315 to 1322,
large numbers of people
across Europe died.
ECONOMIC

Peasant Life-Styles.
Peasant farmers
produced the food
used by medieval
society. Most worked
long hours to grow
enough food to survive
each year. Although
most peasants were
farmers, some were
millers, blacksmiths,
and tavern owners.
Life revolved around
the agrarian calendar.
Most of the time was
spent working the
land. Church feasts
marked sowing and
reaping days.
ECONOMIC

Peasants lived in small towns or nearby
farms on their lord’s manor. A typical
peasant home was a two-room cottage with
walls of dried mud, plastered branches, and
straw. The cottage often had a roof of
thatch. Rooms had earthen floors and a few
furnishings, such as a stool, table, and a
chest to hold clothes. Stacks of straw
served as beds for the entire family. Water
was drawn from a nearby well or stream.
Ventilation was poor. Pigs and other farm
animals often lived inside the house.
WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE AGES

During the Middle Ages,
the role of women was
determined by the
attitudes of the Catholic
Church and the nobility.
Women were supposed
to be obedient to men.
Women’s inferior status
was often blamed on the
Biblical story of Eve’s
disobedience in the
Garden of Eden.
WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE AGES

Medieval people lived in extended families.
Nobles maintained large households; related
peasants lived close to one another. Women of all
social classes gave birth to a large number of
children, but many children died in infancy.
WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE AGES

Women’s life-styles varied
according to their social
status. Noble women
spent most of their time in
prayer and in domestic
chores such as sewing
and embroidery. Among
the nobility, only a handful
of women received an
education. Among the
peasants, a close
partnership often existed
between a husband and
wife. Both worked side-byside in the fields. Women
ran the home and looked
after the livestock.
THE AGE OF FAITH

During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church
remained the single most powerful organization in
Western Europe. There were many reasons for this:
THE AGE OF FAITH

The head of the Catholic Church
was the Pope in Rome. The Pope
was regarded as the successor of
St. Peter, leader of the apostles
after the death of Jesus.
Catholics believed the Pope had
inherited the role of Peter in
running the Church. The Pope
governed the Church with the help
of cardinals, bishops and other
church officials. The Church
controlled enormous amounts of
land throughout Europe. The
Church also possessed
monasteries, abbeys, and
convents, where monks and nuns
spent their lives devoted to prayer.
TWO CHRISTIAN THINKERS

Two Christian thinkers who had a
great influence on the Middle
Ages were St. Augustine and
Thomas Aquinas. St. Augustine
(354-430) lived at the time of the
fall of Rome. In The City of God,
Augustine asks why God is letting
barbarians destroy the Christian
civilization of Rome. He
concludes that no earthly city,
like Rome, can last forever. Only
the “City of God” in Heaven is
eternal. Because our
understanding is limited, he said
we must put our faith in God, who
will reward us in the afterlife.
TWO CHRISTIAN THINKERS

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) lived 800 years
after St. Augustine. His most famous book,
Summa Theologica, provided a summary of
Christian beliefs. Aquinas wrote as a time when
Muslim and Jewish scholars had just discovered
lost works by Aristotle. Some Christian scholars
felt such pre-Christian thinkers had no value.
Aquinas showed how these works by Aristotle were
compatible with Christian teachings. Aquinas said
that God had given man the power of reason to
help him explain and interpret the world.
Therefore, we should trust as well as faith.
TWO CHRISTIAN THINKERS

Aquinas also believed in the existence of “natural law” – universal
laws independent of any laws passed by government. These laws are
based on reason. Our reason tells us what we must do in order to
“do good and to avoid evil.” Aquinas believed that we can use our
understanding of natural law to evaluate the laws of governments. If
a human law conflicts with natural law, it is not a law and we do not
have to obey it. “Laws of this kind are acts of violence rather than
laws.” Aquinas believed that citizens even have the right to remove
rulers who continually enact unjust laws. Although Aquinas thought a
ruler’s power came from God, he felt this power came from God
through the people.
THE CRUSADES

The power and influence of
the Catholic Church in the
Middle Ages can be seen in
its ability to carry out a
“holy war” against Muslims.
For hundreds of years,
Christian pilgrims had
regularly visited Jerusalem,
where the sacred events
depicted in the Bible were
believed to have taken
place. However, in the 11th
century, the Seljuk Turks
took control of the “Holy
Land” and drove out
Christian pilgrims.
THE CALL TO FREE THE HOLY LAND

In 1095, Pope Urban II
received a plea from the
Byzantine Emperor in
Constantinople for help
against the threat of a
Muslim invasion. Shocked
and angered at the
possibility of
Constantinople’s falling to
the Muslims, Urban II
called on all Christians in
Europe to unite and fight a
holy Crusade – a war to
recapture the Holy Land
from its Muslim rulers.
The Church promised
salvation to all who
participated.
THE CALL TO FREE THE HOLY LAND

The word “Crusade” meant “war of
the cross.” Crusaders fought under
the banner of a red cross against a
white background. The Crusades
brought rulers and nobles from
different parts of Europe together in
a common cause. Pilgrims, wives,
and children of many knights
accompanied the Crusader army on
its long journey from different parts
of Europe to Constantinople and
then southward to the Holy Land.
Many of the participants died of
hunger or disease along the way.
Several Crusades were fought over
the next two centuries.
THE CALL TO FREE THE HOLY LAND

Although the Crusades never achieved more than a
temporary control of Jerusalem, the Crusades had
many important effects:
THE LATER MIDDLE AGES

During the later Middle Ages,
Europe underwent gradual
changes. Trade first revived when
merchants displayed their goods at
fairs, often inside a castle’s walls.
Trade slowly increased and cities
along trade routes grew. The
Crusades increased interest in
luxury goods from the East. A new
merchant class arose in the towns.
Merchants and craftsmen
organized into powerful
associations known as guilds. New
inventions, like better watermills,
windmills and mechanical clocks,
improved life. Cities like Bologna
and Paris founded the first
universities.
THE LATER MIDDLE AGES

Throughout the Middle
Ages, important towns
had often competed to
build the largest
church or cathedral.
The later Middle Ages
saw the introduction
of a new art style. The
first Gothic church was
built in France in
1231. Its pointed
arches, high spires,
and beautiful stained
glass windows were
designed to give
worshippers the
feeling that they were
being transported to
another world.
ENGLISH POLITICAL TRADITIONS

In the Middle Ages, England developed
traditions of liberty and limited self-government
that were unique in Europe.
ENGLISH POLITICAL TRADITIONS

Magna Carta. In 1215, the
English nobles (known as
barons) rebelled against the
taxes and forced loans being
collected by King John. They
were helped by the Church and
towns. John was forced to sign
an agreement promising not to
take away any free man’s
property or to imprison any
free man without following
procedures established by the
law of the land. The Magna
Carta guaranteed all free men
the right to a trial by jury, and
further forced the king to
obtain the consent of a council
of nobles for most new taxes.
ENGLISH POLITICAL TRADITIONS

Parliament. Later English Kings summoned
nobles and representatives of the towns to
grant them new taxes. This led to the origins of
Parliament.

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